Becoming a Jackal

Conor J. O'Brien is as Irish as they come: soft-spoken, given to black moods and flights of literary mysticism, so full of Catholic guilt he probably sweats Communion wine. Villagers' debut album (on which he plays almost every instrument) opens with a Joycean evocation of paralysis called "I Saw the Dead," and only gets heavier. His folk rock folds U2's wide-open red skies into something you can fit in your shirt pocket, leavening fragile songs with gentle orchestrations. But young Conor is no softy; here's how he tells an ex to seek new options: "When it's your turn to disappear/I'll be cheering from the sidelines with a sandwich and a beer."

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